Right, cards on the table to start with. This is going to be quite a long report and I fully expect a number of my followers to be, shall we say, a little peeved with me!
Working on the basis that there are a large number of the Blog followers that are keen motorcyclists and at least one very fit chap that pedals his way around on two wheels who has an obsession with the Tour de France; to you people I apologise in advance, because if the following does not make you want to get out here and ride…then I doubt if you are alive!
Today has been, without doubt, the best day I have spent riding a motorbike, ever, honest, fact!
Harley and I kicked off nice and early, just for fun I put an extra Col in the programme, so we set off up the D900 to Col de Larche 1996m(6549 ft) which is bang on the Italian border and also quite a long way up in the sky. The road was fun, but not over demanding, the views superb! Time for a couple of photos, then back into France and head for Col de Vars.
We picked up the D902, a road that I have, by now, had time to reflect on and believe that I love it more than any other road anywhere….follow on, you’ll see why!
Before today I’d mistakenly Thought Col de Vars was a small player for the other higher Cols, wrong, very very wrong. It’s bloomin’ fantastic. Technically demanding on the corners, exhilarating climbing and views everwhere, the top is at 2109m(6916ft)then comes a fast decent towards Guillestre, oh and there is a nice series of hairpins just before the bottom to wake you up!
At the top.
Next came another unexpected gem, the ride through Combe du Queyras. Here the road is not so much on a ledge in the gorge, it’s as if it’s been pushed into the side of the rock, which over hangs the road and the river, there are also a couple of small tunnels. The road then hangs a sharp left and heads for Col d’Izoard. It’s like what you want heaven to be if you ride a motorbike, so fantastic it takes your breath away. It was on this climb that my respect for the guys on Le Tour De France went atomic and what is more there were happy souls out there doing it just for fun, amazing and I have nothing but respect for them! I told a couple of guys just that at the top, as well. The road climbs through the famous Cass Désert section, which is a remnant of ancient sea meets volcano millions of years ago and now a mile and a half up in the air!
Oh yes one of the bends.
There is graffiti all over the road, as it’s one of the Hors climbs of Le Tour, mostly it’s supportive stuff for the like of the Schlek brothers, but there was some less complimentary stuff about Contador and drugs.
At the top 2360m (7746ft), it was like a biker picnic, they (we) were everywhere and from all over Europe, frankly it was the first time I have ever felt part of the big European thing and it was kind of nice.
The decent to Briancon was fast, but hell, pedal cyclists do it even faster, honestly they are crazy doing over 45 mph down hill and overtaking everything!
Lunch in Briancon, then the steady and fast climb to Col du Lautaret 2058m(6752ft). Stunning views all around, but particularly of the Glaciers de la Meije and de la Girose. I had a chat with a couple of motorbike Gendarmes and they told me that the glaciers are disappearing at a very rapid rate due to global warming, food for thought, as I started up Harley’s not insubstantial engine!
Glacier de la Girose
Then came the Daddy, Col du Galibier 2646m(8678ft). Go look at Google Earth or Maps in the satellite view, you’ll sort of get the picture. It’s simply the greatest bit of road ever, I don’t care what Clarkson says about the Romanian bypass, THIS is the best road in the world!
I have to confess that reaching the top of Galibier was a deeply moving experience for me, even to the point of the old eyes welling up, can’t say why, it just a very special place.
The run down to Col du Telegraph and St Michel was fun, loads more wiggles and loads more pedal cyclists going up. I do declare I got better at wrestling Harley round the bends as well!
Fast run up the valley through Modane and stuck in a quick visit to Col du Mont Cenis 2083m (6834 ft) very fine wide sweepers to this one up the D1006, it’s quite a ski centre and the road reflects this plus there are countless ski lifts all lying idle at the moment.
Starting to climb Col d’Iseran, it became obvious we had a major problem, an alpine storm was brewing up! Now here we were, part way up my D902, and it went cold, very cold. Then the rain started, well actually somebody turned on the tap, no the fire hose and the sprinklers come to think back on it. Then the lightning began! Oh boy we’re we in trouble! Should I do what my Mountain Leadership Training taught me and get the hell off the mountain? Go where? There was nowhere to run, we were in the open in the worse electric storm I have ever experienced, just got to tough it out! Still, with a carbon fibre helmet any lightning strike would finish me off without me knowing anything about it! Then about a mile or so from the top, we got into the relative safety of the small tunnel. Bliss to put on dry waterproof gloves and sit it out for twenty minutes. The thunder and lightening slowly moved away, but at one point I could actually see the lightening strike the ground on the hills the other side of the valley, wow what a privilege! We set off for the top and the relative safety of the decent to Val d’Isere. Briefly stopping to grab a quick phot at the top, 2764 m(9088ft) we beat a hasty decent.
A mile further down the road we were sheltered by the mountain and could see the fine weather in the valley below.
A careful yet spirited decent soon lifted the spirits as we sped on to our overnight stop at Seez.
Total miles today 217; Trip total so far, 1173.
Galibier south climb from top.
The north side.
Galibier was only cleared of winter snow last week, there’s still a lot about!